Hackney: Lessons learned on Sturgeon Bay, continued

Last week we ended at the point where I was going to determine if I’d found drum, walleye, catfish or smallmouth bass with my electronics. My plan was to drop a heavy jigging spoon down and see what happened.

I hooked a good smallmouth. At that point I made a mental note of the waypoint I’d marked and moved along. I spent the rest of my time looking around, shallow and deep. I’d like to say that I found other spots but the truth is that I didn’t. My places to fish were few.

The lesson here is to learn to use your electronics. Know what you’re looking at. Don’t pay attention to dock talk or to what other guys say your screen is showing you. Then, go old-school and test your theory. It would have done me no good at all to have marked spots and then caught walleye. They don’t count.

The final thing I’ll talk about is two-sided.

I ran out of fish on the final day. That resulted in me leading the tournament for two days and then dropping into 15th place. That’s what happens when you blank. The reason I blanked is both simple and complicated.

The simple part is that my fish moved. You can’t catch them if they aren’t there.

The complicated part is that I didn’t really know where they went or how to find them. That’s mostly because I don’t have a lot of experience fishing for smallmouth. They’re legendary for moving around. I’d go so far as to say they’re nomadic.

This is the place where experience makes all the difference. Because I don’t really understand them I didn’t know what to do other than look around. Looking around and hoping to find a school isn’t a plan, and it rarely gets you anywhere.

The sad part of all that is that over the years I’ve grown to love and respect smallmouth bass. They’re as pretty as anything that swims in freshwater, and they fight like there’s no tomorrow.

What I’m saying is that recreational anglers should take heart. There’s no replacing time on the water. We talked about that before but it’s worth repeating.

I don’t have it when I’m after smallmouth. Sure, I can catch them but I lack the depth of knowledge about them that it takes to catch them day after day. That takes years of experience. And that’s the core problem that most recreational anglers face — time on the water.

It’s impossible to get really good at chasing something like a fish when you only do it for a few hours a week. Accept that as part of the fun of going fishing. Treasure the days they jump in your boat. Accept the days you can’t get a bite. You don’t feed your family fishing. Be thankful you’re out on the water.

That’s really the position I was in at Sturgeon Bay. I managed to stay up near the top, and I couldn’t have won AOY anyway so why get upset because the smallmouth whipped me on Sunday? It was a learning experience. I’m at peace with that.